One of York’s lost corner shops will be brought back into public use as a community café, if new plans are approved.
The building at 26 Fairfax Street, on its corner with Lower Priory Street, was built in the 1860s and was a shop until the 1980s. It is fondly remembered locally as Dooley’s.
The whole building has been an eco-holiday let since 2004, but owners Shan Oakes and Bill Rigby now plan to convert the old shop on the ground floor into a café called Fairfax Corner.
It would use surplus food from supermarkets and local suppliers, and be run as a not-for-profit operation, partly-subsidised by the holiday let above it. There might also be a community fridge, for people to give or take food.
The building is one of many old corner shops in Bishophill that has been converted over the years, but its original doorway and windows are still in place, meaning its former use remains very obvious.
In a planning application, Ms Oakes and Mr Rigby said: “It has long been our intention to support the local community by bringing the corner shop back to life. This development proposal is our realisation of this ambition.
“Economics and social need has meant that the original business model was unviable, and instead we have consulted widely on a possible alternative. Our proposal is to open a not for profit community cafe, to serve beverages as well as light meals made from excess food collected from local retailers – such as soup, paninis and so on.
“This model is very popular in other parts of the city. It should provide a welcome meeting point with refreshments for both locals and visitors, in an area where there is no other such offer.”
‘Let’s bite the bullet’
The couple bought the house in 1996 and lived there until moving abroad and then to Knaresborough. Shan and Bill have both been Green Party activists and have campaigned on a wide range of social issues, often displaying posters in the windows to highlight the causes.
Speaking to YorkMix, Shan said: “It will be somewhere for the community to meet and share ideas, and somewhere for visitors too. York is a good place for making things happen.
Bill said: “People kept asking us over the years if we were going to open it again, so we thought ‘let’s bite the bullet’.
“We asked people if they’d use a community café and everything is coming together now. If it goes through planning, we can hopefully open in June or July, coinciding with covid restrictions being lifted.”
Shan said they had carried out a lot of work on the building over the years to make it eco-friendly, including adding solar panels and improving the insulation.
“They also work to protect swifts as they have a swift nest below the roof guttering, and they considered calling the new venture Swift Café.
The corner is overlooked by the Bar Walls, so Shan said they hoped the café would attract walkers as well as people living in the surrounding terraced streets and the older people’s sheltered accommodation at the end of Priory Street.
The couple also said they expected people would buy take-away drinks, to take to the grass moat beside the Walls and the nearby children’s playground.
Shan and Bill are keen to hear from local people who remember the shop as Dooley’s or who may have a photograph of it. The York Past & Present group on facebook featured memories of it in this post last year, but no images. If you can help, email [email protected]
The planning application can be see here on the City of York Council website.